Saturday, December 29, 2007

Budgie Smuggler Tango

Southern Cross upon the telegraph poles of Erskineville

Jetlag morphs into house moving lethargy and then into a chain of holiday feasts, linked by soaring temperatures. Through it all, the great book unpacking exercise has continued.

On Xmas day I joined Vance and Meme for lunch with their family, future in-laws and assorted friends. The absolutely smashing centre piece for the meal was two barbecued snappers. Vance's son John was with his Romanian fiancée Marcia and her family, all of whom were fascinating to talk to as our hosts kept rotating the seating positions. Vance's sister Beverley was producer for the original TV programs The Inventors and Mr Squiggle, each an iconic program from my early years. I told Bev that my first two Tablet PCs were named Blackboard and MrSquiggle after that show.

I hold my spoons aloft while Maestra Heidi Gledhill leads an impromptu Wolloomooloo Orchestra

After lunch, there was a general call for party pieces, Vance graciously performing the most outrageous piece in front of strangers and family alike to ensure that no one else felt they would be more embarrassed by their performance. John and Marcia offered a vocal/guitar performance of a song from the recent Irish film Once, Meme performed A New Fangled Tango a capella, while I hastily improvised a recitation of the Kavafy poem Ithaka (downloaded onto my phone moments before).

Mr Squiggle

Lena Horne's New Fangled Tango

A long uproarious evening at Phil's place as various orphans wandered in and out, and finally sat around the dining table for The Game, an increasingly challenging guessing game based on names written on slivers of paper.

On Boxing Day, it was my first chance to see some of my family and the growing clutch of young ones. My cousin Grant said that I was officially part of the family when I finally partook of the ritual slack-jawed nap on the sofa that we had always admired so much in our fathers' generation.

Final party of the season was at an opulent consular residence in Sydney's leafy harbourside Eastern Suburbs. It was to be a pool party, but no one ventured into the water, even though I did pack my budgie smugglers for the event. I did take advantage of the lovely grand piano in the conservatory and picked out some Bach and Chopin from the frayed selection of sheet music in the piano bench.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Groundhog Moving Day

Sydney skies: it's starting to look a lot like Christmas

I have never lived in a house for more than 5 years. I've come close on 3 occasions: 1973-78 spent in a bank residence in Temora, 1994-98 in the house I'm reoccupying now, and 1998-2003 in my Wallingford house in Seattle. It goes without saying that I've been a total gypsy in the 4.5yrs since I left Seattle, with never more than 6 months continuous presence in any dwelling.

I'm unpacking in Australia for the third time since 2003. I remember when the moving van departed from my new Sydney house that year after dropping off a container-load of furniture and boxes. It was half the size of the Seattle house, and I had no idea where to put everything, and I was already having bad feelings about that house. I gathered Bondi and Dougal around me, and cried.

Six months after that, I had packed everything up again, found Dougal a new home in Adelaide, and started my first weeks of life, living more or less out of the car, with Bondi and a few suitcases. It was at that time that I'd started to formulate the idea of the grand tour that occupied us for the last 2.5yrs.

Bondi and I bounced around between Tasmania, Sydney and Melbourne for months, and then I found a room to rent, a resting place until I either found a reason to stay, or had enough momentum for the grand tour. I unpacked a little of what I had, shuffling some of it in and out of storage, as I either compressed, disposed of, or scanned items for backup. In May 2005, I packed that all up again to begin travelling.

Marrickville Sunday Market after the snow-plough went through

So now I find myself unpacking a third time, and -pleasepleaseplease- the last time, for the forseeable future. I think that sorting the books and paperwork have been occupying most of my time for the last 6 days, and I'm really looking forward to moving past this and redeveloping my life in Sydney.

It's a little weird bumping into acquaintances or strangers who have dropped into the blog from time to time, and that may become more frequent when I have Bondi beside me again. I'll also work out whether it makes sense to continue this blog, create a new one, or allow us to have a graceful withdrawal from cyber-life.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Tiger Country

My first Xmas card arrived today from Maureen and Tony in Cornwall. I'm on the path to being properly grounded in my new digs.

And so, another day of unpacking and sorting books, with sundry excursions to the hardware store for this 'n' that. I had one of those annoying phone calls from UPS where they try to extort you for costs for clearing deliveries into the country. Apparently they're going to charge me GST on the packing costs of the pictures sent to me from the UK. So I'm paying UK VAT and Australian GST on everything. I also learnt that UPS has defined "expedited" as "slowest".

I stepped away from the books this evening to see Jono Gavin's play Tiger Country at The Stables theatre in Darlinghurst. At the margins, it's a Xmas tale by virtue of its setting of a disturbed family getting together at this time of year, but given that one family member is a serial killer, not a tale you'd present at the parish picnic. The production is obviously done on a shoe-string, but the ensemble of 5 is exceptionally fine with Nicole Winkler's Rachel a first amongst equals. In some ways the script seemed more tuned to being a screenplay than a stagework, as we flash between different combinations of the family as they tumble towards the almost inevitable climax.

A couple of interesting reviews here from the SMH and razzbufnik.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

On the shelf

He used to bring me biscuits, but that was on the outside.

I cannot believe how many books I have. I should, especially after lugging a gigantic number from Sydney to Seattle, and then an even larger number back to Sydney. I've had to make a couple of trips to IKEA to get bookcases, but even after installing 25m of linear shelf space I still seem to have teetering piles, double-stacked shelves and un-opened crates to deal with. I don't even want to think about the additional crates arriving in my car next month.

Since my spare room is about 1.5m deep in boxes, I've had to shuffle them one way in order to make roof for the first bookcase, stock those shelves, and then work my way into the space cleared thus to erect another bookcase, and so on.

Bondi still seemed to be in good spirits when I saw him today, but as soon as I edged into his pen, he turned his attention back to the door - "OK, the joke's over, get me out of here!". I'd brought in some replacement medication for him and explained the dosage etc to his keeper, and felt somewhat relieved to see that the official whiteboard had been updated with this information before I left. I enticed Bondi to play "slow-chases" with the toy hedgehog, the indoor game he's played since quite young. It's all about keeping me away from hedgie and doesn't require any turn of speed. Usually we'd play it around the dining table, but the ritual of feints and avoidances still works in a small open space like his pen.

As soon as I exited, I heard Bondi's gurgling moan of recognition that he has been left behind again. I circled around to the outside to show him I was still in the vicinity, even if only for a moment. While I don't like to set up any expectation for him seeing me regularly it will be horrible over the holiday period as there are no visiting hours till after the New Year. So it will be 12 days or so till I see him again.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Beware of the dog(ma)

Today was my first chance to visit Bondi out at the Eastern Creek Quarantine Station, about 40km west of central Sydney. This is Bondi's second stay courtesy of AQIS, and he is almost exactly twice as old as he was the first time. Last time he shared a pen with his brother Dougal, and had refused all food from his arrival until I flew in from the US some days later. I wasn't really happy with the state of the facilities because a permanent trickle of water down the concrete slab meant that both dogs were constantly slipping about, and both had wet raw patches on their limbs from falls.

The station has two open slots for registered visitors on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons. Extra weekday visits can be arranged to enable exercising in one of the small outdoor pens. I find it rather depressing to visit because apart from dealing my own dog's unhappiness, you see a few dozen other dogs who are possibly not getting visited at all. Queensland, for instance, has no quarantine station, so it's unlikely that dogs bound for that state will get any visits or exercise for the duration of their stay. Worst of all are the cases where owners have not thought of their pets until the last minute before an international journey, and condemned their dogs to 6 months in quarantine.

Bondi was looking good when I turned up, although a bit edgy and intense. I brought along one of his old toys, a stuffed hedgehog, that I'd found in the storage locker, plus a handful of ginger biscuits to act as methadone, weaning Bondi off Keith's presence at Munson's cafe each day.

Bondi's food/medication sheet on his door displayed no indication of the capsules I had despatched with him last week. When I spoke to the office staff, they said it was becoming increasingly common for customs officials along the journey to confiscate medication tied to the dog's crate. Because AQIS has no in/formal relationship with any of the agencies involved in such a journey, they never know who is responsible or why it is done.

When I got home, I emailed the transportation folks back in the UK. It turned out that they had not replaced the medication that I had bagged with his paperwork. Very careless, and sadly a little typical of what I had experienced with the organisation of this particular journey. I was amused to hear that Bondi "caused a stir at British Airways when we had to get him out of his box for it to be X-rayed (his size terrified a few of the handlers)."

This evening I went with Mark S to see Phil in the current Wharf Revue,"Beware of the Dogma". Phil presented his inaugural Kevin Rudd impersonation, while Jonathan absolutely inhabited the role of Paul Keating as he delivered his verdict on the state of the nation.

Monday, December 17, 2007

White goods

Back: Jono Gavin, Phil, James Millar, self, Muxley
Front: Genevieve Lemon, Vince, Colin

This morning was spent in a welter of unpacking, and bed assemblage, before running off to the dentist for some periodontal rough-housing. He said "this will cure your jetlag" as his pain-on-a-stick implement made noises against my tooth enamel like skeletal fingers down a tombstone. Curiously I still felt like sleeping only moments after my root canals stopped reverberating.

Rushed back home to take delivery of the fridge, washer and dryer and got those installed and prepped quite rapidly. Took some time out for a nap on my oh so comfy bed.

I was invited out for dinner at the Harbour View Hotel at The Rocks, nearly in the shadow of the Sydney Harbour Bridge's southern pylons. Dinner company was excellent, getting the chance to see familiar faces, and to extend my fading Sydney social circle in one go. The table service was rather lackadaisical from start to finish. The wine list came down to one possible variety of white, as choice after choice turned out to be either out of stock or "we've never had it"; Colin's request for an explanation of the French-titled salad dressing was "explained" via an inappropriate analogy to Bernaise sauce. When I asked why my dessert was missing half the advertised components, the indifferent response was "we hoped you wouldn't notice that". Totally unprofessional at every step, especially given their prices.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Stairway to Nevin

Robyn Nevin is ending her tenure as artistic director of the Sydney Theatre Company. Knowing no shortage of people who have performed for her, I had no trouble getting a ticket for the goodbye show at the Sydney Theatre.

The opening and linking material were provided by Phil, Jonathan Biggins and Drew Forsythe (of the Wharf Revue) with special highlights being Valerie Bader's turn as jazz chanteuse / New Zealand PM Helen Clarke and the Helen Clarke Five, and a special Goon Show detailing the recent history of the STC. Genevieve Lemon and Simon Phillips delivered some hilarious rambling reminiscences in tribute to Robyn.

The final act was a version of So Long, Farewell from The Sound of Music which included the incoming team of Cate Blanchett and Andrew Upton, as well as Robyn's partner Nicholas Hammond, who played Friedrich in the movie version. This is possibly the first time he has sung the song since appearing on the Ed Sullivan show in the 60s.

Another portrait in another hall

I did stay awake a little longer last night, but still woke at 1am. Cheated!

After some more attempts at sleep, with no idea of how much I achieved, I rose at 8 and went to my house to unpack a few boxes before the remainder of my possessions arrived. The furniture folks called to announce an early delivery of my dining table and chairs, and then called again and again from different incorrect addresses in the area until they got to the address written on the delivery schedule.

I got a head start on the moving with 3 car-loads over 2 hours, and while packing the 4th got a call from the movers to say that they were in the loading bay. 3 hours later, and everything was in the house, and I'm officially signed out of storage. The second bedroom looks like a major book warehouse; a major cull is going to be needed. I feel totally wrecked after 5.5hrs of nonstop shifting boxes and furniture. Some of these items are moving into this house for the second time in 14 years after holidaying in Seattle for 5years and then sitting in storage for a further 3-4yrs.

Before I shut the door to go back to Phil's, I put up one picture in the entrance hall...

Bondi would be midway between London and Singapore now.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Staying awake, ah ha ha ha, staying awake.

Green Eggs and a ham

Yesterday's energy ran out at about 9pm. Light off, head on pillow and zzzzz. Then I woke at 1am, slept fitfully, waking again at 5.20 and then half-slept until I heard Phil moving around the house.

He was keen to go out for breakfast again, and I was jumping at the chance to go to Martini's for some "South Sydney Eggs", poached eggs on crusty bread, smothered with oven roasted tomatoes, peppers and gobs of pesto. Breakfast in bold primary colours. A Sydney breakfast with lots of flavoursome, non-heart-stopping frills to jumpstart the day.

I called a small moving van company to ask about rates/availability from today forward. They said Monday is definitely available, but would call back in half an hour to advise whether they could do anything today. I don't get the call-back, and when I have a moment call back to ask again. The same guy answers and seems to have no recollection of me calling. We end up setting a time-range for the middle of the day tomorrow. In the meantime, I make a couple more car trips to transfer smaller boxes from storage back to the house. I'm also trying to tire myself out properly so that I have a chance of sleeping right through the night. The temperature range of 22-30C, compared to London's sub -10C is not helping the moving or sleeping.

Trying not to think too much about Bondi. As I write this, he is probably still out at the boarding kennel at Heathrow, and won't be in the air till for another 16 hours. I hope he's eating, and getting his proper dose of medication. I probably won't get to see him until Tuesday.

I've got to 9pm now. Another hour or two of wakefulness will make me feel I've really achieved something.

Friday, December 14, 2007

You are #3 in the queue...

Oh god that's a long flight. 22+ hrs on top of a very late departure from Heathrow. 3.5hrs sitting around the rather unimpressive Terminal 4 is not a good prelude to any long distance journey.

At Singapore we had to get off the plane and take all our bags. There's no time to shop, but a glance over the wares shows there are no bargains any more, and you essentially forego any warranty on electronic items by purchasing there. Then the Singapore airport security rifle through your bags mercilessly before you can reboard. They found a tiny little swiss-army gadget on a keyring buried somewhere deep in my bag, which has a blade that wouldn't threaten a Barbie Doll. That was confiscated and I had to sign for it. Complete waste of time, even aside from having to repack my bags after they'd scattered the contents over multiple trays and scanned them again and again.

Crossed into Australia somewhere near Broome at about 1am, but there's still 6.5hrs more flying time to Sydney. My first view of the ground in daylight is around Broken Hill, a brown expanse like patterned formica broken up with old stream beds and billabongs. There is little variation in the terrain until we reach the Great Dividing Range well into the last hour of the journey.

Touchdown a little after 7.30am. I'm through customs quickly, my bag miraculously off the carousel in the first few minutes. I check my email while waiting and there's a touching quantity of email and Facebook messages from friends and readers. (I'll get back to everyone individually as quickly as I can).

... and then on to Marrickville. It's a 15 minute journey and I'm looking for new buildings, admiring the greenery. After 30 countries in as many months, you only have to glance at a few trees to know that Sydney is definitely the most exotic place on the list.

My house is empty so I'm staying up the road at Phil's for a few days until I have enough furniture and services. Showering a day and half of cattle-class stink off me is my first order of business and then Phil whizzes us up to Newtown to breakfast at VargaBar. Mr Huxley joins us midway through the first flat white of the morning.

Back to the house for a quick inspection. I haven't lived in this house for nearly 10 years but there are still my signs of my handiwork everywhere. Succeeding owners and tenants have made some improvements, but the gardens front and back have been eviscerated. My lemon tree out the back gone, the gardenia near my bedroom window at the front, source of gorgeous afternoon fragrance, also gone.

Everything inside appears to be in good order but the dishwasher door is jammed shut and there are no garbage bins. I'll have to call the council to organise those before my moving-in rubbish piles up. I call the energy company to get continuity of gas and electricity service. Phil takes me into town to collect a rental car and then I'm off to my storage facility to remind myself of what I have, and what I will need to get in the coming days. I don't waste the visit, and fill the car up with smaller boxes and bags from near the door to take back to the house.

The afternoon sees an hour frittered away talking to Optus about broadband, phone and TV plans. Choices seem to be much more restricted than when I was organising the same things 4 years ago. My energy level is running low, but I'm determined to do as much as possible that will save waiting time over the next two weeks.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Last plane to Marrickville

Bondi was collected by his transportation support team just on an hour ago. We had one last little walk around the area and sit together outside Munson's while I got teary-eyed. He hadn't eaten anything last night, knowing that something was going on, even without any large scale packing to confirm it.

So I'm sitting on the edge of the bed, bedlinen washed, dishwasher churning and floor vacced and mopped. The big bag is sitting downstairs, and I just have a few odds and sods left to throw in my carry-on bag.
tears to come

years to run
joy to sum
fears to numb
cheers to drum
love to hum
worlds to

I'm not there (much longer)

If Cate Blanchett can do it...

I really have nothing left to do but say more goodbyes. Sat outside Munson's with Paul and Keith talking the usual high-minded nonsense and enjoying interchanges with the regular crowd of passing eccentrics. There's a sparkling old lady with a shopping trolley, her voice betraying her East End origins, who reminds me an awful lot of my grandmother. She's most concerned about Bondi and tells me to keep on with his medication - it must be the Cushing's! According to her, the trolley is a magnet for young men, who offer her assistance all the time. All I can do is off them a kiss, and I say that if I were 70 years younger ... well one of them gives me a big kiss on the cheek and I think to myself I wish I'd put some superglue there....

Christmas Panettone "is yum" @ Munson's

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Monks, chicks, children, everything!

I took Bondi into the city centre for his absolutely last visit while I helped Keiron sort out other essentials (bank account, phone) and toured him around the West End. I asked him to mind Bondi for a moment while I dived into HMV to get the new Blade Runner Trilogy CD set which probably won't be available in Australia for months. When I got back to the street, Keiron reported on all the people "monks, chicks, children, everything!" who stopped by to check out Bondi.

Over lunch near 7 Dials, I sketch out my "explanation of Europe" on the back of a menu, laying out the difference between the EU, Schengen zone and the Eurozone. Keiron threatens to scan the scrawl and post it on Facebook.

More goodbyes to people through the day. More photos to remind me of the streetscapes I'll miss.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Brick Lane

Dithered about going out today as I was shaking off a croaky head-cold, but thought $%^&* that, it's my last Sunday in London! Took Bondi east again to revisit Spitalfields Market, and to go a bit further on to Brick Lane, the heart of Anglo-Indian London.

Kath Kitson Goes Everywhere / Infinity Comes and Goes

At Spitalfields, a few new stalls had some artwork on display. I was immediately struck by the work of Adele Underwood, and snapped up a couple of pieces to be shipped back home. Some more of her work here.

Outside these markets it was cold and miserable, which didn't deter the crowds from Brick Lane or any of the other markets and exhibition spaces on the roads fanning out from it.


Took tired doggie back to Ealing on the tube, and then turned around to come into Bloomsbury to welcome Keiron from Sydney to London. He'd just flown in to start a new chapter of his own life in London. He'd spent a year of school exchange in Welwyn Garden City (not far north of the M25 ring) but that didn't really prepare him for the reality of London today. Over dinner I wrote out a list of must dos, sorted him with Oyster card and a quick turn around South Bank. Home before midnight, but I've still managed over 2hours on the tube today.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Northern Lights

5 nights out in a row has been quite enough for the week. Bondi has not been terribly happy with my evening absences and skipped his meals on two occasions. If he keeps that up, I'll be able to carry him around in a back-pack before long... which is probably his motivation - seeing all those purse-sized models has been giving him ideas.

Despite the rather negative reviews of "The Golden Compass" I knew I had to sneak off to an afternoon session, just to get some eye-candy visuals for Pullman's story. Despite the best efforts of the cast, this reminds me of David Lynch's film of Dune. In this case the story mantra would be "The dust* must flow!" Anyone who hasn't read the books is going to have a tough job of pulling it all together. AND since this is the first instalment of the 3 volume His Dark Materials story, the concluding dialogue rather breathlessly contrives to tell us that a lot more has to happen before everyone can be safely tucked up in their beds. The young stars reminded me of the old Disney live-action film "The Three Lives of Thomasina".

rather than spice

A couple of the film/book locations really stood out for me after my own northern adventures with Bondi, a miniature ice-bear in comparison to Iorek Byrnison (voiced by the ubiquitous Ian McKellen). The witch queen erafina Pekkala harks from Lake Enara, Pullman's fictionalised version of Lake Inari, seen in the banner photo for this blog. I also recognised Bergen, one of the locations used in the second half of the film.

Before the film there was a trailer for a new Ealing comedy, a remake of (The Belles of?) St Trinians. It features Rupert Everett as Camilla Parker-Bowles the Headmistress.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Singing in the abbey

"After the glass-and-chrome titans of Oxford Street, frenetic with escalators and decibels and security guards, Harold Moores is a Dickensian haven..."
An Equal Music, Vikram Seth

HM Records; Carnaby Street by day

I made a special trip into town at lunchtime to visit Harold Moores Records on Great Marlborough Street to say our goodbyes to Hester, Tim, Andy and Daisy. While I'm likely to return one day, at least on a brief visit, this is almost certainly Bondi's last week outside of Australia.

While there, I listened to the opening strains of a famous recording of Wilhelm Furtwangler conducting Beethoven's 9th in Berlin on Hitler's birthday in 1942. Hitler is not present, but Goebbels is in the audience. Reacting to this context, Furtwangler produces what must be the most harrowing rendition of this piece ever performed. (Bondi, until now sitting quietly down the end of the store, finally bellows a "Freunde get me out of here".)

The new production of The Sound of Music playing at the London Palladium features Connie Fisher as Maria, cast from the televised search How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria? Since October, the role of Captain Georg von Trapp has been played by Aussie actor Simon Burke. I've known Simon for an age (he refers to me as "the computer who wore tennis shoes", which dates both of us) and he was quick to offer me the chance to get some house seats before I headed south.

As well as I know the music, having learnt many of the pieces at the piano under the tutelage of Sister Celestine at the convent in Temora, and having been at one of the first sing-along film screenings in Seattle in 1999, I'd never seen it on stage before. I was still not expecting to find myself with tears running down my cheeks during that very powerful moment midway through Act 1 when Maria confronts the Captain about his treatment of the 7 children.

During the second act, the scene at the Salzburg musical festival becomes a direct parallel to the Furtwangler concert, with the Captain, under orders from Nazi officials, is heard to sing in the reprise of So Long, Farewell: Regretfully they tell us / But firmly they compel us/ to say good bye.

I couldn't help but notice during that "festival" that "a drink with jam and bread" gave the mondegreen "a drink with German bread". I'm not the first, apparently.

The final escape across the hills to Switzerland was rather weird, as the set device for said hills resembles an Unidentified Flying Golf Course.

Through the oval window... (or is it Sauron's eye with Visine?)

Carnaby Street by night: paper-chains and garlands

While I was watching Cinderella last night, Prince Charming's shower scene inspired a terrible German music joke to flash through my head. To wit, that "Steaming" Nell Dunn's play about 6 women in a bath-house, be set to music by the avant-garde composer Karlheinz Stockhausen. Naturally, and this is the core of the joke, it would be called "Steammung" after his 1968 work for vocal sextet "Stimmung". Hey, even the numbers line up! The suggested pairing for this piece would be Luigi Nono's Nonet (also sadly unwritten).

This morning I woke to read that Stockhausen had died the day before...

In search of transparent acetate resin footwear

The real theatrical highlight of my week was always going to be Stephen Fry's version of Cinderella staged at the Old Vic, with Pauline Collins as the Fairy Godmother, and Sandi Toksvig as the Narrator. The show only premiered 2 nights ago but I am sure it will have a glorious run through to late January. I spent a good portion of it seized up with laughter at Fry's cleverer jokes and partaking of the good-natured fun of yelling "look behind you", "oh no he didn't" and "CAKE!!!!". There's also the obligatory participation of children from the audience, one of whom nearly upstaged the Narrator and Buttons as they made several attempts to cook a feast from ingredients purchased from different providors: Fortnum & Mason, Tesco (Toksvig: I love Tesco as it keeps the riff-raff out of Waitrose), and Iceland).

After an excellent narrated opening (Narrator to Buttons: "of course they know your name, they've got programs..."), the first number was a bit "one-size-fits-all" with some vocal/music balance problems. A cheesy backdrop there was replaced by a serious of increasingly impressive sets, and some rather touching lyrics for the songs linking the two sets of romantic pairings.

Daintier than a pantomime cow...

As the length of the days crunches down to a sliver of light, I'm not getting much further than the coffee shop each morning. After my dietary core has been consumed, the sled dog is turned around and mushed back to the house before the gloom settles over the streets of Ealing again.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

9 years

Seattle: Dec 6, 1998. [8 weeks old]

It's 9 years today since I met Bondi.

Final week

Down to the final week now, with my attention turning further towards the logistics of my first week in Sydney. I'm at a dinner party tonight at Peter and David's in Chiswick, so no long tube journeys to manage.

Snickered my way through John Scalzi's comic SF thriller The Android's Dream. Chapter 1 here.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007


Romping through the leaves at Walpole Park, Ealing

I tried to book a ticket for the RSC production of King Lear some time back. Even though it's been long sold out ( as I belatedly discover ), the booking agencies don't declare this on their web sites. Irritatingly you have to be informed of this in person after sitting in a phone queue for 20 minutes.

In lieu of this, I booked for the RSC's alternate repertory staging of The Seagull (1894), which was to be my first experience of a Chekhov play. Sir Ian McKellen plays the secondary role of Sorin in what must seem a welcome break after taking the lead in Lear, and with far fewer costume changes than his turn as Widow Twanky in Aladdin (2005).

For this night's performance, Frances Barber was unable to appear as Arkadina, so a rearrangement of understudied roles brought Melanie Jessop into the role, and I didn't feel shortchanged in the least with such a masterful performance. I liked Monica Dolan as Masha and Joanathan Hyde as Dr Dorn, but found Romola Garai's Nina a bit too strident. The thrust stage meant that some dialogue completely inaudible when the actors were facing away, and the overly warm theatre made me very drowsy in the first act. I had a horribly similar experience with the Bell Shakespeare production of Hamlet "in the round" on a hot Sydney night - the large fans brought in to ventilate the room made the play totally inaudible even when the cast were facing my side of the stage.

I haven't worked through all the symbolism of the play, but at the time I couldn't help comparing the chain of partially/unrequited love Medvenko -> Masha -> Konstantin -> Nina -> Trigorin to sea-birds, each following a boat, and diving in for a peck of food when opportunity availed.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

I am here to kill your monstah


Very conscious of the time I have remaining in London, and of the walks, the neighbourhoods that I've come to know. Not having lived *anywhere* for longer than 5 years, I have so many houses and streets from Australia and Puget Sound piled up in my memory. The last 30 months I've added so many more, with (West) London, Paris, Edinburgh, Wigan, Salamanca, San Sebastian being the handful where I've spent a month or more in total. If I throw in the next tier then I have foggy notions of being able to mentally navigate Pamplona, Nice, Budapest, Naples, Venice, Amsterdam, Berlin, Stockholm, Oslo, Tallinn, Riga, Vilnius, Krakow, Ljubljana, Bratislava, Dubrovnik, Dublin and a rich assortment of regional centres through the UK. Who knows what strange visual and olfactory maps Bondi retains after all this.

I took myself off to the BFI Imax at Waterloo to see the 3D version of Beowulf. The story-telling is better than I expected, and grislier and bawdier, but the motion-capture CGI is rather creepy. The human characters seemed reanimated rather than animated, a horrible sheen of unconvincing flesh. The SFX people were a little more successful with pinning Ray Winstone's facial features to a rather more athletic body model. The 3D presentation was spectacular enough for me to provide a recommendation in spite of that shortcoming. The BFI however do themselves no favours with a singularly uninspiring "light show" before the main feature, that was almost as poor as the subterranean show I saw at the Wieliczka Salt Mine. I also recommend grabbing coffee and candy at Waterloo station before assaying the theatre's poor selection.

The Imax is a few minutes' walk from Southbank, and I headed over to the Royal Festival Hall for drinks with my friend Karl, who has been showering me online with recommendations for visits to various architectural treats all over Europe.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Baubles, books and babbaboos

Covent Garden

A beautiful day to take Bondi out and run some errands in the city centre. A foray into Foyle's to find a book covering the rules of a board-less Scrabble variant (using 2 sets of tiles) invented by Leonard Bernstein. Not successful there and haven't dredged anything up from net searches. Did replace my Pocket Pilot map of London, lost somewhere in recent weeks. They're the only city maps that seem to survive long term use (well-laminated) and which are stuffed with useful detail for getting around a city. The little pop-up maps are well and good, but seem to disintegrate very rapidly.

Lingered around Covent Garden for a while, the market heavily decorated in faux-icicles. Dropped into the London Transport Museum and carried off a great little book on Harry Beck's design of the map for the London Underground. Good stuff if you appreciated Edward Tufte's books (although not his OTT rant on PowerPoint).

On the other side of the Thames, the sunshine had brought out some sand-artistes, who were sculpting sofas in the south bank sands.

Lunch in Borough Market, and then tubed down to Vauxhall to see what was to be seen. Nothing, as it was to turn out. After getting a little lost in the snarl of roads, foot tunnels and bus terminals around there, we headed for the river and followed it up through Lambeth and across into Westminster. From there, through St James Park.

William Heath Robinson: Christmas Thieves.

Last stop for us was The Illustrators exhibition at Chris Beetle's Gallery near Piccadilly, walls plastered with Ronald Searle, Mervyn Peake, Arthur Rackham, Heath Robinson, and dozens of other notables from the last two centuries. The 450pp catalog is a jewel in itself. Bondi went to sleep betwixt a statue and a wall of Searle, snoring in a near-foetal position while I went off to admire the collection.

The westbound Piccadilly line platform at Green Park station was absolutely heaving with Saturday shoppers heading home or for further buying in Knightsbridge. Squeezed down to the end of the platform where the traffic was lightest and managed to squeeze us in for the trip back to South Ealing. Most of the carriage disgorged within a few stations so Bondi was able to lie down for the remainder of the journey.

A quick turn around and I was out for dinner in Southfields with my mate Ben Dawson, in London between playing piano gigs around the land with the usual droll analysis of the celeste repertoire.

Finished Geoffrey Chaikin's Meta Maths! The Quest for Omega, probably my most mathematical read in over 20 years. I really must get to reading Wolfram's "A New Kind of Science" now, which has been sitting in my storage for some time. Recovering from thinking about uncomputable numbers by reading Don't Cry For Me Aberystwyth, the fourth installment in Malcolm Pryce's series of Welsh Noir detective novels. It still doesn't measure up to the exuberant lunacy of the first (Aberystwyth Mon Amour).